New Yorkers are spoiling for a fight.
When Buddhist actor Richard Gere urged a concert crowd in Madison Square Garden last October to meet terrorism with "love, compassion and understanding," the audience booed and jeered. This month, Rabbi Yakove Lloyd announced that -- in response to terrorist threats -- Jews would begin patrolling Brooklyn neighborhoods with shotguns.
Call it the "Spirit of 9-11." A silent mobilization is sweeping the city. New Yorkers, young and old, are coming to grips with the fact that it is better to die fighting than to simply die.
Unfortunately, city officials don't agree. The gap between official and grassroots New York revealed itself with stunning clarity last weekend, when two unarmed women showed more courage than the whole city government put together.
It began in the wee hours of Sunday morning, around 2 am, when -- according to cops and witnesses -- a 34-year-old black man named Steven Johnson appeared in Manhattan's artsy East Village, carrying three loaded pistols, a samurai sword, a police baton, a hundred plastic handcuffs, a spray bottle of kerosene and a barbecue lighter.
Johnson had a 17-year history of arrests on larceny, drug and weapons charges. He also had a deadly hatred of white people.
"I've got a problem with you," he told 28-year-old pedestrian Jonah Brander, just before shooting him in the gut.
"Call 9-11!" shouted Brander, as he stumbled, bleeding, into Bar Veloce, a crowded hangout at Second Avenue and 11th Street. Johnson followed Brander into the bar, shooting him again.
"It's time for all of you crackers to pay," said Johnson. "You know what this is about."
Johnson forced one woman at gunpoint to cuff the other hostages, then sprayed his prisoners with kerosene, all the while "ranting about white people" and vowing "revenge for thousands of years of suffering," said Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
"White people are going to burn tonight," cried the gunman.
"I thought we were going to be raped," said 23-year-old Ann-Margaret Gidley, an off-duty waitress from another bar. She soon realized, however, that Johnson had something worse in mind.
"After I saw the barbecue lighter, that's when I knew I had to do something..." Gidley recalled. "I could tell... there was no way out alive... And I just decided that my mom was not going to read about me in the paper, and not in this way."
Gidley's hands were free. She had only pretended to be bound. Siezing the moment, she tackled Johnson from behind.
"He didn't fall, initially. I had to hit him a couple of times, and then I got him to the ground.... And I felt a couple other hands, which was the best feeling in the world...."
Those "other hands" belonged to Annie Hubbard -- another off-duty waitress and aspiring actress. Hubbard too had only pretended to be bound, while keeping her hands free. During the struggle, Hubbard was shot in the leg.
Only then did a SWAT team move in, taking advantage of the ruckus. A police bullet grazed Johnson's head. Moments later, he was arrested.
It could have been worse. Johnson shot three people, but killed none. All sixteen hostages escaped alive.
In another town, Johnson's rampage might have been a wake-up call. But this is New York -- the city that never learns.
"Those two women did the right thing," said Commissioner Kelly. "... they were very brave."
Yes, they were brave. You have to be, in a city where armed killers roam the streets, while gun laws keep honest citizens defenseless.
Ordinary street cops must also be brave, in a town where shooting a black man leads to press attacks, law suits, internal investigations, Al Sharpton protests and denunciations by Hillary Clinton. Maybe that's why police waited 40 minutes before making their move on Johnson.
When Rabbi Yakove Lloyd announced June 9 that armed Jews would patrol Brooklyn streets, Chief Kelly vowed to arrest anyone who tried. After all, someone might get hurt!
But unarmed women making suicide charges against homicidal maniacs bristling with weaponry -- this Commissioner Kelly heartily recommends. This he calls "the right thing."
Gentle reader, don't get me wrong. I love New York, and I love the NYPD. But there is a madness in this town that rivals the madness of Steven Johnson.
Our women face death unarmed and unprotected, forced to fight criminals with their bare hands. That they're tough enough to take it is a credit to our women -- but a shame to every New Yorker, cop or civilian, who presumes to call himself a man.